According to Nicholas Ladany, Ph.D., it’s one of the most amazing pieces of art he’s ever seen.
La Pieta by Atlanta artist Shanequa Gay hangs in the Oglethorpe University Museum’s Skylight Gallery. It depicts an African American mother cradling her deceased son and speaks to today’s social and racial climate. The powerful artwork was acquired for the university through a collaborative initiative led by a group of Oglethorpe students and the Student Government Association in an effort to expand the diversity of artists represented in the museum’s collection.
For Ladany, its presence on campus serves as one of the many reasons why he is proud to have been selected as the 17th president of Oglethorpe University, a position he officially assumed on July 1. He comes to the institution after serving as dean of the School of Leadership and Education Sciences and Associate Provost for Academic Outreach at the University of San Diego and is an internationally recognized scholar, educator and author.
Why was Oglethorpe the right fit for you as an administrator?
Oglethorpe just resonated with me. What’s evident to me is that it’s a gem of a university. It has everything in place that parents would want for their students. There is a strong commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. It’s a small liberal arts college, and more than 50% are students of color. We value diversity as a quality, and it’s outstanding that we have a community such as this. Another standout is the engagement of the faculty. On a large campus, you’re a number; in a place like Oglethorpe, you’re not a number—you are engaged by many faculty, and these are people who deeply care about and want to help students. That’s why people love being here.
The beginning of this academic year is certainly challenging. How are you managing it?
You can’t predict what you don’t know, so you have to rise above the fray and focus your attention where it needs to be focused. We have two principles: the health and safety of our students and educational access. If we teach remotely, we still have to make sure that we meet our students where they are. We have to provide a high level of engagement. To me, a webinar with 50 to 100 students is not a class, but a class with 15 to 20 students that’s taught remotely can provide engagement in a unique and meaningful way. In any case, we really want to make sure parents know that we are taking care of their kids.
What are your goals as the new president of Oglethorpe?
In leadership, what’s critical is facilitating positive change. But it’s not me doing it by myself. It’s about bringing together a shared voice of our community members, our staff members and students. We want an educational environment that’s exciting and innovative.
You recently moved to Atlanta. How are you enjoying your new home?
It’s been wonderful. Our home is full. [My wife, Randa El Jurdi, and I] have three grown daughters; two of them are with us and working remotely. We like being out in the community, and we’re excited about all kinds of things. Atlanta is steeped in the arts, and we hear there are wonderful botanical gardens. We also tend to like to be immersed in civil rights organizations and that kind of work, and we are excited to see those kinds of organizations here.
What does it mean for you to be Oglethorpe’s 17th president?
I’m a first-generation college student. I come from an immigrant family. I understand what college can do for one’s life and how it can propel one forward and provide safety and support. Higher education is important, and I’m a firm believer that anyone can succeed in college.